Football Season's Sweet Ham and Yeast Rolls

It’s football season. Oh, and it’s consistently 42 degrees outside. And my yoga pants, fuzzy boots and cozy over sized Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt has become my daily wardrobe.

What is it with these cold weather months? In the summer, I can go weeks on salads, grilled chicken and pineapple (and large doses of ice cream too, of course). But the minute that thermometer dips below 60 degrees, I’m scarfing down every carb-ridden, mayonnaise-laden, rich-sauced bit of food I can find, like a Survivor competitor winning the food reward at a challenge. (Hence the yoga pants reference up there.)

And with all of this hunker-down-and-enjoy-the-snowfall goodness, the Smith Homestead kitchen has officially made its annual rotation from summer menu to winter menu.

This weekend we spent much most of our Saturday watching those incredible rivalry match-ups happening on football fields around the country. And forgoing the typical pizza and chips route, I dug through some of my favorite Fine Cooking back issues to discover this gem of a recipe for yeast rolls…the foundation (and roof) for dozens of mini ham sandwiches to feed this small army of men in the house. 

You could really dress these little sandwiches in all sorts of garb. Relishes, mustard, veggies, cheeses, sauces, etc…. But honestly, nothing is more pure than some sweet ham and a warm roll. Quintessential simple food.

And what I love most about this entire package is that is just so, so simple. The yeast roll dough can be made the night before, shaped and left to rise in the fridge. I did a variation on this recipe. 

I put the ham in the slow cooker for a couple of hours while we went to pick out our Christmas tree and then made a really basic sugar glaze, spread it over the cooked ham and popped it under the broiler till crispy. 

All this to say….on game day, I wasn’t slaving in the kitchen. I was cuddled under the quilt with those sweet boys of mine, cheering on my beloved Buckeyes to their victory over Michigan~ and munching on some really great wintery food. 

Make Ahead Dinner Rolls

4 cups AP flour
1 package (or 2 1/4 tsp.) instant yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1 t salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 large egg yolks

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook (or by hand), combine dry ingredients. Mix gently. Warm the milk and butter in a saucepan (or microwave...that's a little more volatile...keep a watch out for pour over.) Warm the butter and milk to 115 degrees. (If you don't have a thermometer, put your index finger in the milk mixture. You want it to feel quite warm but not hot to the touch.) 

Add the warm milk/butter mixture to the bowl with the egg yolks. Mix on low speed until it comes together and then allow the dough hook (or by hand) knead the dough for 5-6 minutes until it looks and feels smooth as silk. 

Shape into a ball and place the dough in a buttered glass bowl~ one large enough to allow for ample rising. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise...about an hour. 

Butter a 13 by 9 baking dish. 

Turn the dough out on the counter and divide the dough into 16 pieces. I like to use a kitchen scale and weigh to ensure all dough balls are evenly sized. If you go this route, the magic number on the scale is 2oz. per dough ball. As you shape the balls, place them in the buttered baking dish. You should get 16 rolls total. 

**To make ahead: At this point, cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. The following day, remove the pan and let it sit at room temperature for 4-6 hours before baking. Proceed to baking as follows.

If baking immediately: Cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap when the rolls are puffy and ready for baking. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

Basic Sugar Glaze:

1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup water

Mix all three in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until it liquifies. With a pastry brush, brush the cooked (hot) ham with the sugar glaze and  place it under a high broiler until the sugar has browned and the ham is looking glorious.

**Little scrumptious tip: Take a bit of that sugary glaze that has dripped off the ham and into the pan below and brush it on top of the roll. Seriously heavenly. Makes your fingers slightly sticky and best-of-all, deliciously sweet.